At Bannow Bay in Co. Wexford, improved water quality in the area was celebrated recently on account of the lower nitrate discharges into the inlet.

Organised by Coastwatch, an environmental group, the event took place during World Water Day (Friday, March 22) at the bay on Ireland’s south-east coast.

During their citizen science autumn shore survey in 2023, Coastwatch reported “a worrying nutrient enrichment picture” for the south-east of Ireland.

However, their survey revealed that the water quality of Bannow Bay “improved,” with lower nitrate discharges, dwindling green seaweed mats and aiding the flourishing of seagrass.

Those attending the event included Jer O’Mahony, Wexford Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) chair, Karin Dubsky, co-founder of Coastwatch, and Rory O’Hanlon of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS)

Michael Nugent of the Local Authority Waters Programme (LAWP) presented results for two areas in Bannow Bay, Tintern and Wellingtonbridge, which he said had not seen spikes in the 2022/ 2023 period.

However, co-founder of Coastwatch, Karin Dubsky gave an overview of the water results from the 2023 autumn survey detailing that trends for excessive nitrates were going in the wrong direction overall.

Water quality in Bannow Bay

The improvements in water quality at Bannow Bay was evident through a presentation given by Liam Ryan, a local farmer and ornithologist.

Ryan detailed that seabirds in the area, including brent geese that need to access clean freshwater after feeding on the salty shore could be seen throughout farmland in the region.

The birds feed on zostera noltii, a seagrass, which Ryan explained would not be thriving if there was higher nitrates levels in the bay.

Edward Burgess of Teagasc tested some inflows at the event, which gave those attending insights into the nitrogen levels of the water.

At a nearby Office of Public Works (OPW) site, Tintern Abbey, the walled garden there had an example of a stream running through it that uses leaky dams to alter flows to the channel.

Nugent and Greg Roche of the NAWP then took some kick samples from the stream and showed the importance of boulder rocks to aerate the water to support fish.

A guide at Tintern Abbey, Kathleen Kinsella said: “The OPW take care of numerous projects across the board, such as property management, heritage services and flood risk management.

“It is the upmost importance to conserve and promote biodiversity. The OPW is in a unique position to play a leadership role in tackling the loss of biodiversity in Ireland.

“The plan of the organisation is to have a clear vision for the future and outline the steps the OPW and its staff will take over the years ahead to help ensure that biodiversity is protected for future generations,” she added.